Karen | pronouns: she, her, hers | Community leader
Karen is a leader within her community, seeking and strengthening connections with and between her neighbors, congregations, and groups like the Church Council. She became involved in the Church Council’s Food Box Program this summer first as a recipient, then as a volunteer, and ultimately as a hugely impactful connector of her neighbors to food boxes and other resources.
Interview November 2020 | Kimberly Dominguez-Barranco, Interviewer
You are a busy person with many responsibilities! Being impacted by this pandemic, you still found it in your heart to offer your home and your time to others in need. What inspired you to step up to be part of food box distribution this year all while still connecting CCGS to community members you’re connected with that were in need of food?
It’s interesting because when the Church Council started helping us we lived a bit far, and so I asked my husband to come with me so we can go pick up the boxes ourselves in order for you guys not to have to drive so far for us. When we arrived, I noticed some young volunteers, but the majority of the volunteers were elderly. While we waited for directions, one volunteer mentioned to me that one of the routes were really far, I thought to myself they’re older, they have to drive far which takes a lot of time out of their day, and I thought it was riskier that they spend most of their day being out and about.
We were in a pandemic, I was sick (not COVID related), not working, I was at home and so felt like I basically couldn’t do anything, but I knew I could help here. I loved the idea, and so I asked if I could help.
What inspired you to connect us to your community? In my eyes, I see that as a community leader, one who connects a community you’re connected with that can offer aid to one who is in need of that support. I’d love to hear what motivated you to make and trust us with those connections.
When you’re in your world, in your own bubble, you think that your life is hard, but when you start seeing that other people are in a much more difficult situation you want to do more to help. You want to look for more help for them. You want to find other resources for them.
The first round of [food box] deliveries really touched me because I was sick and facing the pandemic as well, but when I saw how many people were in need of serious help I saw I was really blessed by God because even though I was in a bad situation myself, others were in a much more horrible position. People we were delivering food boxes to had a lot of family members in their house, they don’t have many rights and they have far less opportunities than others.
You started to take a leadership role as you got more involved. How was that experience?
It was well- organized, but when I noticed that there was not a lot of volunteers that could carry food boxes from the warehouse to the Church Council and then distribute, that’s when I volunteered to help at the warehouse as well as delivering food boxes. I remember there was one time when someone didn’t come on time, and everyone was lost so we took initiative and started organizing the food boxes ourselves, and I helped everyone stay calm and wait until we received the instructions we needed in order to move forward.
How was making the connection to your community to CCGS, while also being on the other end of receiving food boxes?
It was a really beautiful experience. There were people who didn’t expect to receive food boxes at all.
There was this one friend I know who really needed support in the pandemic. In her apartment it was herself, her mom, and her little sister who is disabled. Her mom has to take care of her little sister at all times due to her little sisters disability, so she stays home to take care of her, and so my friend is the only one who works in her household. During the pandemic it’s been a lot more difficult for her to support her family. When I asked her if she would like me to connect Church Council to her she was so happy she was close to crying! You also don’t want to overstep in their lives by asking if they need support, but she was so happy to receive any bit of support that can help her family, she was one of the people that I know that were the most grateful to receive the food boxes.
I realized there are a lot of people who don’t speak on the critical and urgent support they need, and due to the fear of embarrassment many people don’t ask for help.
Another story that really touched my heart was when I went to drop off food boxes to a family and there was a lady that was pregnant and had three little kids with her. When I arrived, a little kid ran up to me and said, “Tu me traes mi lechita? Mi lechita, tu traes mi lechita?” “You’re the one who brings my milk? My milk, you bring my milk?” I wanted to cry. I was like oh my gosh I didn’t know how many days this little kid hadn’t had his milk!
I didn’t know if he was going hungry, but when I showed up with food boxes this little kid was so happy that I wanted to cry! I told this woman that if she ever needs anything to please call me and we’ll find help, we’ll try and find more food for you if you need more before next week’s delivery! She was very thankful and appreciative of what we were giving already. That experience I had with that family made me go, “Wow, whatever effort no matter what, is worthwhile to see a little face like that, a face that’s so happy to receive his lechita.”
You mentioned that folks sometimes are too embarrassed to ask for help, why do you think that is?
I think a lot of Latinos have that mindset that we come here to work and move up, and in this time with the pandemic where we can’t work it brings their self-esteem and their mood down. I think that gets in the way of their desire to ask for help. Many don’t know where to ask for help and because they are ashamed that they have to ask for help. Also, a majority of undocumented folks are scared because their information could get into the wrong hands.
Why are local leaders important?
Local leaders are so important because not only is it food, but it’s giving company to the community, saying no estan solos, estamos con ustedes (you’re not alone, we are with you). Maybe we can give people hope, and the world needs more hope.
If we don’t take the initiative, time, and energy to assemble groups to help people, we would be stuck. When we are focused on ourselves, we aren’t opening ourselves up to hear and help out the community. The community leaders who make the effort to get people’s attention and get people together make such a big impact on so many families.
If you all didn’t unite then all those people wouldn’t have received their food. That little kid wouldn’t have received his milk.
It is not easy to gather the community. It’s hard work and at times you cannot accomplish everything that one would like to accomplish, pero cualquier granito de arena, cualquier poquito que se pueda hacer a lo menos que sea poquito eso va ayudar mucho porque eso va tener impacto a los niños, las generaciones en el futuro, y en los que están ahorita, los adultos. Para que no haya depresiones, para que puedan salir adelante, para conseguir trabajo, para tener esperanza y salir para adelante (but any little grain of sand, any little bit that can be done, will help a lot. It will have an impact on their children, future generations, and those who are now adults. So that they are not depressed, so they have support to get a job, to have hope and get ahead in life).
I think that community work is priceless. It is extremely valuable, and I thank God there are people that can do it. Hopefully everyone can contribute to help and support the community even if it’s just a little, a push, an extra hand can go a long way even if it’s just a little. If everyone can help just imagine everything that community leaders can do.
I think everyone that participated in the Church Councils food box program can continue the message for more people to unite and work together. Whether that’s to help with resources or whatever the need is, there will always be someone who needs help whether they ask for it or not. We can all do something to support and help others in need. I admire community leaders so much because the amount of people that benefit from their work is so great!
Was there a special moment of the distribution project that was meaningful for you?
I didn’t know this lady, but when I called letting her know I was on the way, I was about 20 minutes away from her house to deliver her food boxes. She answered and told me, “I can’t wait, I can’t wait because I’m going to have my baby now, I can’t bear the pain anymore, I’m on my way to the hospital can you please leave it at the door for me?”
I then told her I’m just 20 minutes away, and she then responded, “If I stay for 20 minutes more here my baby is going to be born here.” I would’ve loved to meet her baby, but she just told me to just let her neighbor know to store her food boxes meanwhile she was in the hospital delivering her baby. That was such a funny story.
But the most meaningful moment was when I was delivering food boxes to the pregnant woman with three kids, and the youngest child ran to me for his milk. That was the most meaningful moment that really just touched my heart.
When we can all safely gather again, What food do you plan to bring to the next Solidarity Group potluck?
I’m from Costa Rica so I would bring empanadas con Arroz y pollo!
Dear neighbor, the leaders who connect us urgently need your support. Please, make a gift to the immediate & enduring work being done through the Church Council of Greater Seattle today.
It is the kind of year when we must inquire: would you consider giving even more generously?
This year, a gift of any size, received by December 31 would make a difference in the movement we are building together. Thank you for all the ways you are showing up for your neighbors!
Read here: three more local leaders of the Church Council tell you about their organizing circles.